Posted by: David Offutt | December 16, 2019

The Importance of the Trump Impeachment

President Donald Trump’s July 25, 2019, phone call to President Zelensky using his office to advance Russian and personal interests left the House Democrats with no alternative than to take action.

At long last, the House Democrats are finally going to impeach Donald J. Trump. However, the Trumpistas in the Senate are not going to remove him from office, so our only hope is that the voters will save the American republic in November of 2020. If they don’t do it, our 232-year experiment in a constitutionally-mandated democratic-republic could well be over.


If the former Republican Party members, who instantly transformed into Trumpistas in November 2016, had not been so incompetent, irresponsible, and malicious during Trump’s first two years when they controlled both the House and Senate, Trump would have been impeached and removed from office for his obstructions of justice and violations of the emoluments clause well before the end of his first year. They ignored oaths of their offices and did not check Trump’s abuse of his.


Vice President Mike Pence’s willingness to be Trump’s running mate does not bode well for his fitness to be president. (Photo by SHAWN THEW/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Mike Pence could have become president and would have been perfectly eager to do all the counterproductive things that they love about Trump: oppose health care for 20 million Americans, sign tax cuts for the rich, cut regulations on industry that protect the public and environment, prevent anything from being done about climate change, emasculate our national park system, placate the anti-choice evangelicals, and appoint reactionary Federalist Society judges to lifetime appointments to permanently restore the Gilded Age. However, Pence would have done it so as to not bring disgrace upon the office of the presidency itself. He would not have been a blatant pathological liar or a sociopathic demagogue, but apparently Trump was the ideal image that reflected the true nature of the party.


The congressional Trumpistas will now continue to pretend to be deaf, dumb, blind, and stupid to everything Trump does to degrade the office of the presidency for as long as it works for them. They’ll spout Russian propaganda about Ukraine and support Trump’s efforts to subvert the constitutional separation of powers and its system of checks and balances for as long as he keeps his base fired up – a base, other than their natural evangelical/ white nationalist/plutocratic constituency,  that the Trumpistas have no intention of doing anything for. (How long will those angry white voters who supported Trump in 2016 as a protest candidate stay with him?)


Barbara Jordan’s dynamic eloquence and Peter Rodino’s sober chairmanship of the House Judicial Committee investigating Richard Nixon made for riveting television viewing. (Photo: Getty Images/Bettman)

I watched gavel-to-gavel all the Trump impeachment hearings of the House Intelligence and Judicial Committees. I was able to do that because I’m retired. I always regretted not being able to watch all the Senate Watergate Committee hearings with Sam Ervin, Howard Baker, & company and the impeachment hearings of the House Judiciary Committee with Peter Rodino, Barbara Jordan, et al. For a U.S. history teacher, they represented the Constitution in action.


Richard Nixon’s abuses placed our constitutional system in grave danger, using his office to promote his own personal and political benefit, attempting to create an imperial presidency beyond the rule of law. Nixon almost got away with it. In spite of the overwhelming evidence of his involvement in the cover-up of the Watergate burglary and the other related crimes, he still had enough Republican senators with closed minds, claiming to have doubts, to survive conviction. That was true until near the very end when the “smoking gun” tape became public.


Richard Nixon, like Donald Trump, used his office and the agencies of the federal government to further his own personal interests. The difference between 1974 and 2019 is that back then, there were still some Republicans who actually cared about issues like that. (Photo by David Offutt of Norman Rockwell’s 1968 portrait that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC)

Ironically, in contrast, Trump will most likely get away with it; even though the investigations only began after the “smoking gun” was made available: the phone call. How anyone could read the transcript of the call, which I have, and not see an extortion of a foreign power for personal, domestic political benefit is impossible to imagine. Trump even confessed, without contrition. The cover-up of the phone call began immediately after the call with staff members trying to hide it in a more secretive and secure location. Fortunately, our law protecting whistleblowers allowed us to find out about it through one brave, patriotic soul.  Trump perpetuated the cover-up by prohibiting loyal Trumpista witnesses from obeying lawful subpoenas and various submissive departments from providing subpoenaed documents. Regardless, several other witnesses valued their oaths to protect and defend the Constitution, defied Trump’s illegal ban, and honored their subpoenas to testify.


Even more egregious and incomprehensible is Trump’s contempt for the impeachment clause in the Constitution itself. He claimed that “the Constitution’s impeachment provisions are unconstitutional.”  He believes, as Nixon did, that if the president orders or does something, then it’s not illegal. If two thirds of the Senate (67 of 100 jurors) does not vote to convict him, the impeachment option may be considered meaningless by all future presidents.


This singular Ukrainian bribery scheme and its contempt of Congress is emblematic of the entire first two and a half years of Trump’s use of the presidency for his personal gain. Trump’s multiple abuses of power with Congress’s complicity have threatened the separation of powers, the system of check and balances, and the future of the republic. Now that the House Democrats have finally met their constitutional obligation, how many Senate Trumpistas will have the courage to revert to being loyal Americans and vote to convict? None?


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is highly unlikely to place the nation and the Constitution above the interests of his party. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader and one of the100 jurors, has displayed only contempt for his constitutional responsibilities: currently he won’t bring hundreds of House bills to a vote and previously he wouldn’t allow a Senate hearing or vote for an Obama Supreme Court appointee. He recently bragged to Sean Hannity on Trump’s propaganda network that he is coordinating defense strategies with the White House. If Trump went to McConnell, that would be tampering with the jury. But what do you call it when the jury asks the defendant what it should do? A show trial? A farce?


Things look very bad for our republic. It’s going to be up to the voters in 2020. But don’t forget that the Democrats are an important factor. If they don’t nominate someone who can appeal to their former, neglected base – those who defected to Trump in 2016 – the election may well be a coronation of an absolute monarch.

[A version of this essay was printed in the El Dorado News-Times on December 15, 2019.]

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